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2010 Staff Picks by Genre

 

Fiction

Book Cover for Man in the Dark Auster, Paul
Man in the Dark

Fiction
A retired book critic, dealing with major physical problems as well as serious insomnia, creates a bedtime story or story-within-a-story to pass the time, all to great effect.
Recommended by John, November 2010

 
Book Cover for The Infinities Banville, John
The Infinities

Fiction
First of all, this is one of the most beautifully written novels ever to see the light of day. Breathtakingly so. Now for the story. The great mathematician Adam Godley lies dying in his country home recounting the pluses and minuses of his extraordinary life. Swirling about is his extremely eccentric family, doing a bit of soul searching themselves. Add to the mix the classical gods Zeus, Pan and Hermes (our narrator) and you have the makings for sophisticated mayhem.
Recommended by John, October 2010

 
Book Cover for Flood Baxter, Stephen
Flood

Fiction
Better bring an umbrella. It's going to be wet. Stephen Baxter creates an apocalyptic tale like no other. Endless rain, rising oceans and surging rivers put an end to dry land on earth between the years 2013-2055. As always, the human spirit survives, as a few characters escape waterworld aboard earth's last spaceship, headed for . . .
Recommended by John, June 2010

 
Book Cover for Citrus County Brandon, John
Citrus County

Fiction
John Brandon is a young author hitting his stride. Citrus County illustrates his mastery of the crime and mystery genre. Characters the reader cares about spiral out of control with circumstances never as apparent as they seem to be. This could be an author to watch for a very long time.
Recommended by Tony, December 2010

 
Book Cover for Pink Slip Ciresi, Rita
Pink Slip

Fiction
A romantic comedy, with smart prose adding to a delightful plot. Lisa decides to leave her rat-infested apartment in New York City for a new job upstate. She is attracted to her supervisor, Eben Strauss, a corporate vice president and a quiet man with good manners who is a decade older. Two people could not be more different. They begin to see each other, but agree to tell no one at work since it could compromise both their careers. When their relationship starts to become serious, Lisa struggles to keep her history hidden, including drugs, more men than she can list on a single sheet of paper (including a married man), and other risky behavior. Eventually she must tell Eben of her checkered past in order to protect him, though she fears it will destroy their relationship. Pink Slip is strongly recommended to more than just romance fans.
Recommended by Terry, July 2010

 
Book Cover for Shadow Tag Erdrich, Louise
Shadow Tag

Fiction
Irene, desperate to get out of her destructive relationship with her husband, discovers that he is reading her personal diary. She decides, therefore, that it's time to keep two: the Blue Notebook and the Red Diary. Soon it occurs to her to "cook the books" and, like a corrupt emotional accountant, manipulate him through what she writes, thus beginning a slide down a slippery path to oblivion. In another first-rate novel by one of our finest storytellers, Louise Erdrich powerfully chronicles the dissolution of a marriage, a relationship, and a family.
Recommended by Don, March 2010

 
Book Cover for The Neighbor Gardner, Lisa
The Neighbor

Fiction
I'd never read a Gardner book, and this will not be my last! A pretty wife and mother mysteriously disappears one evening, leaving her sleeping young daughter home alone. Her husband is suspected of foul play, but as the novel continues, other possible culprits come into focus. Different characters, including the police detective, have their own chapters to tell their points of view, which adds a dimension to the mystery. All in all, it's a wonderful, suspenseful story. I guarantee you will want to finish it for the surprise ending.
Recommended by Karen G., August 2010

 
Haasse, Hella S.
In a Dark Wood Wandering

Fiction
In a Dark Wood Wandering, first published in the Netherlands in 1949, follows strict parameters of the historical fiction genre: it presents a story that takes place during a notable period in history (beginning with the reign of Charles VI, known as the Wise, the Well-Loved, and the Mad King); the story centers on a significant event in that period (the second half of France’s Hundred Years’ War with England, which includes Joan of Arc’s military career); and the novel presents actual events from the point of view of people living in that time period (the majority of In a Dark Wood Wandering is from the point of view of Charles VI’s nephew, Charles d'Orleans, poet and mediator, who sacrificed personal happiness in a long life's struggle for peace). A compelling fictional account of a fascinating era.
Recommended by Julie, February 2010

 
Book Cover for Juliet, Naked Hornby, Nicholas
Juliet, Naked

Fiction
When a woman comes to the realization that she has been voluntarily participating in a boring relationship for years, the cracking begins, and you won't be able to wait to see what hatches. The most salient feature of the man she's with is his obsession with a musician who suddenly and mysteriously retired from public life after an apparently innocuous visit to a restroom. Fame and fandom are explored here, as well as the temptation to settle for safe as opposed to sublime in our personal relationships. Hornby makes the reader's relationship with his characters intimately friendly. You'll laugh, listen, hurt, anticipate, and ultimately care about them.
Recommended by Geo, August 2010

 
Jones, Shane
Light Boxes

Fiction
This book reads like a dream—of lessons of love and loss in a world of endless winter, and the townspeople who wage war against a season. So vivid and simple is Jones’ imagery, you could swear this book had pictures.
Recommended by Tony, November 2010

 
Book Cover for Let the Great World Spin McCann, Colum
Let the Great World Spin

Fiction
An ordinary summer morning in New York City, 1974. Suddenly a crowd gathers in lower Manhattan and all eyes focus on the top of the World Trade Center towers. A man, it appears, has rigged a cable between the towers and is walking, now running, now dancing in the air. For a few moments strangers on the streets of the city are connected to Philip Petit and what will become an extraordinary American event. Meanwhile, an ambulance races to the scene of a gruesome car accident, and nearly no one notices. Against the backdrop of this summer of Watergate, the first aftershocks of the Vietnam War, and the seedy pre-Guiliani streets of Manhattan, lives intersect, some briefly and some profoundly. A resilient prostitute mother/daughter team, immigrant Irish brothers, an artist and his wife, and grieving parents all find their way through various kinds of pain on this day. “The thing about love is that we come alive in bodies not our own.”
Recommended by Jane, February 2010

 
Book Cover for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter McCullers, Carson
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Fiction
Carson McCullers is one of the most tender writers. I’ve read The Ballad of the Sad Café, The Member of the Wedding, and now her first work, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. All of these pieces are full of moving compassion for her fellow human beings. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter includes a large cast of characters who live in a small Southern town in the 1940s, so her empathy ranges wide. Main characters include a young girl, Mick Kelly, who is driven by a love of music, and Mr. Singer, a deaf mute onto whom many of the town’s residents project their longing. Through her exquisite language, McCullers helps us understand how people long for each other and for very individual dreams. Because her characters often end up alone in their longing, the title of this novel is apt. Despite the pain of poverty, racism, and variations on loneliness, this is not a depressing book. McCullers’ love and respect for her characters make their struggles bearable.
Recommended by Jude, December 2010

 
Book Cover for The Member of the Wedding McCullers, Carson
The Member of the Wedding

Fiction
I love Carson McCullers. I’ve read her Ballad of the Sad Café and found the writing beautiful and the story captivating. The same holds true for The Member of the Wedding, the story of Frankie and her strange and heartbreaking twelfth summer. Frankie’s brother is getting married in another town and leaving the country to serve in the military. Frankie feels lonely and jealous and hatches various plans to deal with this situation. McCullers brilliantly captures adolescent confusion and desire and the pain that they can cause. She also touches on race issues, as one of the main characters is the African-American maid and nanny in Frankie’s 1940s Southern household. This is gorgeous writing.
Recommended by Jude, May 2010

 
Book Cover for The Roses Meacham, Leila
The Roses

Fiction
Think The Thornbirds. Think Gone with the Wind. Except instead of Australia, you are in Eastern Texas. Instead of dreamy Ashley Wilkes, you have lumber baron Percy Warwick. Mary Toliver will do anything to keep her family ranch, Somerset. This includes humiliating her own mother, alienating her brother, and working until she literally drops. It also includes giving up her chance at true love, marrying her brother's best friend, and perpetuating the “Toliver Curse.” Told from three different viewpoints, heroine Mary Toliver, her lost love Percy Warwick, and Mary’s young niece, Rachel, Roses opens with Mary’s final days, when she realizes she sold her soul for Somerset and in the process devastated everyone around her. After a lifetime of secrets, deceit, and family angst, Mary’s last efforts will protect her niece from the “Toliver Curse” and finally prove to Percy that she loved him, even more than Somerset. This sweeping saga won’t change your life, but it’s a perfect read for the beach.
Recommended by Suzy, July 2010

 
Morrell, David
First Blood

Fiction
This is the story of Rambo, a young Green Beret/former POW recently returned from a horrific tour in Vietnam. He travels around the American South and though he does nothing wrong, gets kicked out of every small town he visits. Sheriff Teasel, a veteran of the Korean War, tries to retain order in his community, and sees Rambo as only a vagrant long-haired hippie kid. He too drives Rambo out of town. Rambo decides enough is enough and declares war on Teasel, the local police, and the National Guard. The relationship between these two ex-soldiers, hell-bent on killing each other, becomes almost beautiful, almost filial. A brilliant psychological suspense novel with themes that remain timely, with cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on the rise.
Recommended by Bonnie, August 2010

 
Book Cover for Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel Murakami , Haruki
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel

Fiction
Murakami’s hip, brain-warping novel juxtaposes two plots that unfold in alternating chapters. One, Hard-boiled Wonderland, involves infowars in a futuristic Tokyo, and the other, The End of the World, a struggle for identity in a sinister fairy tale-like village. Part of what makes the novel so engrossing is the distinct tone and characterization each section’s narrator adopts. The data encryptor in Hardboiled Wonderland is a solitary whiskey-drinking, cigarette-smoking intellectual. The protagonist of The End of the World, caught without his memory in the mysterious laws of the village, conveys a dream-like, urgent mood. Switching between these plots is fascinating enough, and has the effect of playing Dark Side of the Moon to the The Wizard of Oz, but irresistible tension results from the interplay and overlap of the two storylines.
Recommended by Renée, November 2010

 
Book Cover for The Housekeeper and the Professor Ogawa, Yoko
The Housekeeper and the Professor

Fiction
A mathematics professor loses his short term memory following a car accident and can only recall what has transpired in the past 80 minutes. Given these circumstances, how can he develop a caring relationship with his new housekeeper and her 11-year-old son? Ogawa has created a beautiful story of the satisfying daily life these characters develop. Root, the nickname given to the boy by the mathematician (because his flat head resembles the square root symbol), grows to love the professor. The boy and old man share a common interest in baseball (with its statistics and numbers), and Root treasures their time together from his childhood until he is a young man in his twenties. Although the professor’s short term memory fails him, his long-term memory is intact, so that he remembers people and events prior to 1975. In a particularly poignant section, the housekeeper and son try to shield the professor from discovering that his favorite baseball player has long since retired. Ogawa makes you think about relationships and memories while illustrating the poetic nature of numbers, which play a key role is this short thoughtful read. Great book group pick.
Recommended by Joanne, June 2010

 
Book Cover for The Opposite House Oyeyemi, Helen
The Opposite House

Fiction
The Opposite House alternates between two storylines. In one, a Cuban family who immigrated to England deals with cultural conflict in their adopted homeland. In the other, a woman who is possibly a Yoruba goddess, navigates her mysterious “somewherehouse,” which has otherworldly tenants and doors that open to both London and Laos. Questions of cultural, familial and individual identity dominate the novel’s themes. The narrator, who is pregnant, navigates her role with her partner and within her birth family, especially in the idealistic conflicts between her mystic mother, a Santería practitioner, and her ultra-logical father, a history professor. As an immigrant and a woman, ideas of belonging and origin also weigh heavily on her. She divides her psyche into her present self, her memories of Cuba, and her hysteric, a part of her personality who “is blank, electricity dancing around a filament, singing to kill.” Oyeyemi’s elegant writing is full of such irresistible daredevil poetry. Her characters are intensely eccentric, yet honest. Their dynamic relationships, especially between the narrator and her best friend and her mother, are emotionally engaging. The Opposite House elegantly weaves an absorbing tale from differing experiences, realities, cultures and myth.
Recommended by Renée, August 2010

 
Book Cover for I Curse the River of Time Petterson, Per
I Curse the River of Time

Fiction
Oh Per, you've done it to me again. I become mesmerized by your beautiful writing and complex characters and then, WHAM! You leave me clamoring for more. Immersed in the imposing Scandinavian landscape, I Curse the River of Time explores the complicated relationship between a dying mother and her grown son. Petterson does not coddle these characters with sympathetic renderings. Sometimes you want to cry with them, sometimes you despise their selfish actions. The Los Angeles Times described Petterson as "a master at writing the spaces between people," and these vast expanses leaves the reader as bewildered as the characters themselves. Choose I Curse the River of Time for your book discussion group—you could talk about it for hours.
Recommended by Sheila, December 2010

 
Book Cover for The Chosen Potok, Chaim
The Chosen

Fiction
In 1944 Brooklyn, New York, a deep friendship is born after two teenagers face each other on the softball field, in a game that takes on the significance of a spiritual war. Set during the final years of WWII, Reuven, an Orthodox Jew, and Danny, son of a Hasidic Rabbi, meet at age 15, and help each other negotiate their separate sacred and secular worlds. A novel as powerful and tender as when it was published in 1967.
Recommended by Julie, July 2010

 
Book Cover for The Imperfectionists Rachman, Tom
The Imperfectionists

Fiction
Cyrus Ott decides to establish a small English-language newspaper in Rome in 1953. The long-term survival of newspapers is uncertain, but Ott, with his own agenda, moves ahead and staffs his paper with handpicked writers, editors, and executives. But this really isn’t a story about the obsolescence of the printed word. In fact, most of the employees seem eerily unconcerned and disconnected from the paper’s fate. It’s the story of the people whose lives intersect at the paper, professionally and personally. Each chapter is its own short story, and we learn about the ambitions, the terrors, and the souls of each of these newspaper people. Twenty pages into this book, I knew I’d be recommending it to everyone I know who loves clear prose and the wonders of human nature. You’ll have your own favorite character – mine was the aging war correspondent, still looking for that one big story that will catapult him to his Pulitzer Prize as he looks for his next free meal or place to crash. Can’t get to Rome this year? Grab a glass of iced tea and enjoy this wonderful book this summer.
Recommended by Jane, July 2010

 
Book Cover for So Much for That Shriver, Lionel
So Much for That

Fiction
Lionel Shriver writes a compelling book. Readers of We Need to Talk about Kevin will never forget the devastating last pages. Her newest effort, So Much for That, is compelling in a different way. Shep Knacker has spent his life planning his retirement in "The Afterlife" (a Third World tropical paradise). Merrill Lynch account overflowing from the sale of his business, suitcase packed to go, Shep is finally leaving, with or without his prickly wife Glynis. Except Glynis has a rare form of cancer. So begins an unforgettable and timely journey through the American health care system. Shep’s account dwindles as he becomes caretaker to his increasingly vindictive wife, money disappearing to rounds of chemo, specialists, and experimental drugs. Meanwhile, his best friend Jackson is going bankrupt caring for his own terminally ill daughter, Flicka, and making unwise decisions that leave him scarred—physically and emotionally. As Flicka longs to end her suffering and Glynis refuses to give up, Jackson makes one final shocking decision, and Shep makes a decision that will change all of their lives. The final pages are as appalling as they are uplifting. When you are finished, you will find yourself praying you never, ever get sick.
Recommended by Suzy, June 2010

 
Book Cover for The World of Normal Boys Soehnlein, K.M.
The World of Normal Boys

Fiction
This is a coming of age story about a New Jersey boy named Robin, whose family becomes dysfunctional after a tragic accident. From the start, Robin doesn’t quite fit in at high school. He is not interested in sports or gym class, and is not the son to his father that his brother Jackson, the jock, is. He prefers trips to New York with his mother where he tours museums, and he's more introspective than most boys his age. Robin's first sexual encounters are homosexual. He finds nothing in common with anyone until he meets Scott, and everything just clicks. When Scott moves away, Robin rides his bike to a new town to find him. I really enjoyed this book, as much for the 1970s setting as for the cast of colorful characters and the close inspection of one family’s dynamics before and after a tragedy.
Recommended by Terry, May 2010

 
Book Cover for Still Missing Stevens, Chevy
Still Missing

Fiction
A young real estate agent is kidnapped during an open house. This is the story of her journey back to "real life" after the year-long ordeal is over. Each chapter deals with a session in her therapist’s office, where she recounts what happened during and after her captivity. An insightful and deeply moving look at her recovery process. I couldn’t put it down.
Recommended by Melissa, October 2010

 
Book Cover for This is Where I Leave You Tropper, Jonathan
This is Where I Leave You

Fiction
Combine Ann Tyler’s dysfunctional families with David Sedaris’s humor and you’ve got This is Where I Leave You, a book both laugh-out-loud funny and serious. Following the death of the Foxman patriarch, the four Foxman siblings and their mother honor his wish to sit shivah, a Jewish tradition requiring the family members (some of whom have not spent time together in years) to live in the same house for one week. As neighbors and friends come to pay their respects, people and events from the siblings' childhood and adolescent years blend with their current lives. Phillip’s past flings meet his current older finacee; Judd copes with a pending divorce and a rekindled interest in his high school best friend; Wendy is frazzled by her young children and absent-but-wealthy husband; Paul and Alice try desperately to start a family while confronting their pasts with Judd. Finally, their mother, a noted parenting expert, reveals a startling secret that shocks her children. Definitely recommended.
Recommended by Joanne, December 2010

 
Book Cover for Noah’s Compass Tyler, Anne
Noah’s Compass

Fiction
I have read all of Anne Tyler’s novels and have never been disappointed. Her latest, Noah’s Compass, is no exception. The protagonist, Liam, is the sort of person who doesn’t open up to others. He passively accepts what is given to him and keeps everyone at arm’s length. However, when he loses his teaching job and moves to a new apartment, his life begins to change directions. Along with Liam, the book is full of wonderful characters, ordinary yet complex people who come alive on the page. With her trademark quirky families and Baltimore setting firmly in place, Tyler has created another winning story.
Recommended by Karen G., February 2010

 
Book Cover for The Lonely Polygamist Udall, Brady
The Lonely Polygamist

Fiction
Everything about Golden Richards is exceptionally large. Physically, he's a towering giant of a man with an enormous family - four wives and twenty eight kids to be exact. But whereas many people may look upon the patriarch of such a grand polygamist family as domineering and forceful, Golden is no such thing. In fact, it is quickly apparent that his life is completely run by his quartet of competent wives. He drifts from bedroom to bedroom according to a pre-determined schedule decided upon by the women. Children, house repairs, church functions - all mapped out for him. The only choices he seems to make for himself (very poorly) in his god-fearing life are the decisions to construct a brothel in a neighboring state and to fall in love with a mistress. There is much comic relief in this tale, but there is also a poignancy that is heartbreakingly real. Satisfying wives is one thing, but how do you give twenty-eight children the love and affection they need? You don't. You try to avoid any cause for comparison and jealousy that may disrupt the family equilibrium. It is easy to feel sympathy for Golden because he seems to not have the ability to alter his course of existence, but that tolerance gets put-upon mightily when his passivity becomes perilous for those around him. Golden's need to desperately love in the singular makes it very apparent that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
Recommended by Sheila, October 2010

 
Book Cover for A Handful of Dust Waugh, Evelyn
A Handful of Dust

Fiction
The story of Percy Fawcett’s disappearance in the Amazon was still fresh in the minds of the British in 1934 when Evelyn Waugh wrote this searing indictment of manners, morals, and marriage. Tony Last describes himself as the happiest man on earth, living comfortably on his family estate, spending his days hunting, and sharing this world with his beautiful wife and child. As his domestic life falls apart, he can neither comprehend what has gone wrong nor deal with what comes next. He decides to travel to the Amazon to find some peace and discovers something else entirely. The last few pages of this story are unforgettable, as is Waugh’s delicious prose.
Recommended by Jane, January 2010

 

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Nonfiction

Book Cover for Lucifer at the Starlite: Poems Addonizio, Kim
Lucifer at the Starlite: Poems

Poetry
The work in Lucifer at the Starlite includes muted, almost philosophical longing set in the context of everyday details, and the thrills and disappointments of family and romantic relationships. Poems depict gods and devils who make pasta and negotiate for CEO-like control of the world. They explore the realms of fairy tales and prayer as well as bars and fetish boutiques. Some pieces employ clever conceits, but Addonizio pulls them off by remaining grounded in sincerity and devoted to the originality of her language. For example, in the poem “You,” she identifies someone as situations and objects that characterize the speaker’s relationship to the person. Highlights of the poem, like the line “You were a town with one pay phone and someone else was using it,” exemplify Addonizio’s specialty at capturing ordinary, familiar details with crystallizing specificity. “You” is one of several list poems that indict unavailable lovers and describe the heart with surprising images, calling it “that tiny little dance floor to the left of the band.” While the book’s structure and range of imagery can be humorous and playful, Addonizio’s voice is deeply reflective and romantic, and her control over the poems’ lyrical tones never wavers.
Recommended by Renée, November 2010

 
Book Cover for It Sucked and Then I Cried Armstrong, Heather
It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita

Nonfiction
This is probably the funniest book about postpartum depression you’ll ever read (Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood by Adrienne Martini is a really close second). Armstrong is a professional blogger whose wickedly funny commentary has propelled her to certain levels of notoriety and once caused her to lose a 9-to-5 job. When she got pregnant and gave birth to her first child several years ago, she knew she might face an emotional struggle with depression, a condition that has plagued her for years. The baby would only turn the situation worse as Armstrong changed medications and went to war with her hormones. The contrast between the humor and mental illness is striking. It was ugly and awful. She needed to be medicated and treated in a hospital. However, with the benefit of retrospection, Armstrong tells her story with amazing humor and dignity in a unique and believable way.
Recommended by Connie, November 2010

 
Book Cover for A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet Baca, Jimmy Santiago
A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet

Nonfiction
I talk to strangers more than most people. Nonetheless, the fact that this book made me say things like “This book is killing me!” to strangers on the bus means something. Poet and teacher Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in 1952 in New Mexico to a Chicana mother and an Apache Indian father. He was abandoned by his parents and later placed in an orphanage, then sent to a juvenile detention center after running away from that orphanage. At age 21 he was sentenced to six years in a maximum-security prison in Florence, Arizona, on drug charges. A Place to Stand is a powerful example of how cultural identity can ground one, as well as how literacy and the written word can give one a strong sense of voice. Baca’s account makes clear that in the U.S. prison system as it exists today, emotional survival and intellectual and spiritual growth is extremely improbable. He regains the sense of belonging he lost as a person of color (e.g. 90% of the inmates are Chicano) by taking ownership of his peoples’ stories and through telling his own. This is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a very long time.
Recommended by Jude, January 2010

 
Book Cover for Temper Bachmann, Beth
Temper

Nonfiction (Poetry)
Beth Bachmann’s Temper creates tense, eerie poetry from tragedy and its aftermath. The cycle is based on experiences surrounding the murder of the author’s sister, for which their father is a suspect. Imagery simmers with violence and restrained emotion. Bachmann alludes to the natural world and the Christian Mysteries, expanding the murder to encompass larger questions of faith, and human and animal nature. The poems repeatedly describe overgrown vegetation and the industrial no-man’s-land of the murder site, combining natural imagery with gritty, forensic details, and evoking a dark, unsettling mood. Details evoke instances of transformation, decay, and stasis, and her use of language rings with precise vocabulary and crisp sounds, as in the line “ . . . singed paper//before it blackens; copper beneath corrosion;/the acoustics of the finch’s song after a tear//in its vocal tract.” The poems possess an intense observational sensation, and the speaker’s voice is never far. In challenging, confrontational lines, she directly addresses the reader: “Move closer. I want to tell you a story” and “Still standing? Now come here.” Because the poems explore so many perspectives of the crime, including the murder, crime scene, lineup, family memories, her father’s account, and the speaker’s own telling, the narrative remains unresolved and complex. The result is a haunting collection whose tone and language linger long after you close the book.
Recommended by Renée, July 2010

 
Book Cover for I'll Mature When I'm Dead Barry, Dave
I'll Mature When I'm Dead

Nonfiction
If you picked up this book you are either already a Dave Barry fan or will soon be one. A witty wordsmith, Barry is never mean-spirited, always original, sporadically wise, and his collection of new essays does not disappoint. But be warned: the chapter "Fangs of Endearment: A Vampire Novel" will cause both cheering and cringing. Behold, this parody of the Twilight series is so excruciatingly right on that I had to laugh, and then cringe as well. Picture Dave Barry actually reading Twilight.
Recommended by Geo, September 2010

 
Book Cover for Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer Carpenter, Novella
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

Nonfiction
A child of back-to-the-landers, self-sufficiency runs in Ms. Carpenter's blood. Smart, tenacious, literate, firmly committed to life in a gritty city, she cultivates a vacant lot in a blighted neighborhood of Oakland, CA. From raising a turkey she serves for Thanksgiving dinner, to adopting a strict "100-foot diet" for one month (eating only what she's raised or grown on her borrowed lot), her stories are compelling and, yes, educational.
Recommended by Julie, May 2010

 
Book Cover for How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors Edited by Dan Crowe with Philip Oltermann
How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors

Nonfiction
“Can you think for a minute about which object, picture, or document in your study reveals most about the relationship between living and writing, and then send it to us?” was the question editors Dan Crowe and Philip Oltermann asked in a letter they sent to dozens of writers. They published the responses in the form of entertaining essays and photographs of these talismans. Writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Neil La Bute, Douglas Coupland, Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Lethem and about 45 others responded. Not only do the brief entries offer glimpses into these writers’ varied approaches and attitudes about writing, but they also provide a sample of their style and wit. Most authors include a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor along with fascinating anecdotes of how they came to value these objects. Aside from the possibility of discovering a new writer, part of the appeal of this collection is its gorgeous design, which will make it especially appealing to readers who enjoy the similarly-themed Postsecret books (http://catalog.einetwork.net/search~s1/tpostsecret). The authors’ contributions range from hilarious to poignant, and reveal the reality of the working lives of a much-romanticized profession.
Recommended by Renée, December 2010

 
Book Cover for Zeitoun Eggers, Dave
Zeitoun

Nonfiction
Back in August 2005, if you had lived in New Orleans when Katrina was about to hit, would you have hightailed it or hunkered down? As the storm was nearing the city, a successful small-business owner and landlord known as Zeitoun decided to stay home and keep an eye on his properties. His wife wasn’t hot on the idea, obeyed the mandatory evacuation, and took their daughters inland. Through daily phone calls with her husband, she learned that Zeitoun survived the storm and used his canoe to bring others food, water, or to safety. Abruptly, Zeitoun’s wife loses contact with her husband, unaware that his Syrian background and Islamic faith have been used against him. Dave Eggers, after months of interviews with the family, chronicles Zeitoun’s arrest and his family’s reaction. If you like nonfiction that reads like a fiction story, check this out in audio or in print.
Recommended by Rita, November 2010

 
Book Cover for The Ticking is the Bomb: A Memoir Flynn, Nick
The Ticking is the Bomb: A Memoir

Nonfiction
Nick Flynn’s second memoir is, at its simplest, a moving meditation on the shadow. He focuses primarily on the idea of torture, combined with his apprehension about his pending fatherhood. As he explores these topics, however, the subjects include his past relationships, family history (including his suicidal mother and alcoholic, homeless father), and his own wrongdoings. Flynn was one of several artists invited to witness accounts of ex-Abu Ghraib inmates, many of whom were tortured and depicted in the infamous photographs. While Flynn makes clear that these brutal political and military acts appall him, his stance is far from righteous, as he imagines the humanity of both the tortured and the torturers. This perspective makes the memoir bigger than his own life or a single political argument—it becomes a reflection on the nature of fear and its power and on personal culpability as a citizen and a human. Brief, potent chapters stack and overlap with expert pacing and irresistible intrigue. Although Flynn analyzes his own troubled childhood, his tone is never self-pitying or sentimental. Instead, his prose is clear and vibrant, interspersed with passages so poetic they are breathtaking.
Recommended by Renée, February 2010

 
Book Cover for Love Belongs to Those Who Do the Feeling Grahn, Judy
Love Belongs to Those Who Do the Feeling: New & Selected Poems (1966-2006)

Nonfiction
Judy Grahn selected this collection of her poems herself, making for a personalized retrospective of her career so far. Her introduction to each section enriches the reading experience by providing personal, philosophical and historical context. Grahn, who wrote much of her work while involved with political movements in the 1960s to 1980s, writes poetry with the intention of reading it aloud, and employs rhythm, repetition and sound to enrich that presentation. The poems are deeply reflective and deal with feminism, lesbianism and working class experience to love and mythic interpretations of Helen of Troy. Many are informed by Grahn’s considerable research on mythology, and employ imagery from those sources as well as the natural and industrial world. Her poems question, rally, rage, inform, inspire and entertain. Whatever the subject matter and tone, each poem rings with its own vivid voice that engages the reader with its emotion, wit and heart.
Recommended by Renée, November 2010

 
Book Cover for The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession Grann, David
The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession

Non-fiction
Murder? Madness? Obsession? What three better lures can entice a reader to these fascinating essays? Each of the essays stands alone, but all are connected by these themes. David Grann, staff writer for The New Yorker, introduces a Sherlock Holmes scholar found dead under mysterious circumstances. Clues abound. Murder most foul? Something else? Grann then tells of a recently executed murderer on Texas’ death row. Justice or a terrible legal mistake? A French con-artist passes himself off as the missing son of an American family, and nearly gets away with it. Why does he do it, and why does the family go along with the charade? A New York City firefighter can’t recall what happened to him during the first furious moments in Manhattan on 9/11. The only survivor of his company, he wonders why. Other essays tell of an obsessed New Zealand giant squid hunter, an American baseball legend struggling for one more shot at the big leagues, and the working life of the men who build and maintain New York City’s crumbling sewer system. Well-written, filled with detail, never dull, this collection will leave you with more questions than answers, giving you plenty of jumping off places to read more about these fascinating people.
Recommended by Jane, June 2010

 
Book Cover for The Lost City of Z Grann, David
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

Nonfiction
Percy Fawcett, gentleman explorer on assignment from the Royal Geographical Society of London, disappeared in the jungles of Brazil sometime during 1925. His search for the treasures of what he termed the Lost City of Z or El Dorado ended in tragedy, but his travels inspired others to return to South America to search for him and his lost party. Hundreds of these searchers also died in their quest to find Fawcett and the fabled lost civilization he was convinced lay somewhere in the jungle. Recently named one of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2009, this story is a fascinating look at the bravery and self-reliance of Fawcett, who traveled to an uncharted wilderness with few provisions and a simple compass. Fawcett’s story has inspired future generations of explorers and artists, including Evelyn Waugh whose novel A Handful of Dust is reviewed below.
Recommended by Jane, January 2010

 
Grossman, Anna Jane
Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By

Nonfiction
DDT. Hotel keys. Rolodexes. Traveler’s Checks. Asbestos. Percolators. What do they have in common? They’ve drifted into extinction, supplanted by better, faster and stronger successors. Revisit answering the telephone with a sincere “hello?” (note the question mark because you have no idea who is calling), getting lost, and privacy, experiences made obsolete with caller ID, GPS, and status updates. It’s difficult to determine if Obsolete is nostalgic or depressing. Either way, Grossman’s earnestly funny essays, blurbs and interviews will take you back to a time when things, ideas and attitudes were replaced at a much slower rate.
Recommended by Lisa, March 2010

 
Book Cover for Brangelina Halperin, Ian
Brangelina

Nonfiction
The title is deceptive if it makes you think it's about Brad and Angelina’s great love affair. The majority of Brangelina deals with Angelina and the making of the brand "Brangelina." In an attempt to validate, normalize, or garner sympathy, every one of Angelina’s attention seeking behaviors is analyzed. The litany is long and exhausting. Just when you think about tossing this book aside, there is a chapter on Jennifer Anniston, and sanity is juxtaposed with shenanigans. What a relief! I don’t want to give it all away -- just let me say there are answers to the questions that some of us may have percolating in our brains, but those are found mostly between the lines. I think the key to understanding this relationship isn’t to go deeper but to go shallower.
Recommended by Geo, February 2010

 
Book Cover for North by Northwestern: A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaskan Waters Hansen, Sig and Mark Sundeen
North by Northwestern: A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaskan Waters

Nonfiction
For a few years, I just didn’t get the Discovery Channel’s hit documentary series, "Deadliest Catch." The program follows the captains and crews of several crab-fishing ships on the Bering Sea. I am not into adventure, risk-taking, boats, or anything like that. I hate cold, and I get seasick. Why would a program like this appeal to me? However, one weekend I caught the beginning of marathon of reruns, and something changed. I became enraptured. I have no attraction to “reality” television, but this show has me. I now care about Alaskan crab boats and the rough and scraggly guys that run them. When I learned that one of my favorite captains from the show, Sig Hansen, had written a familial memoir, I just had to read it. Again, I didn’t think I would get into it. Nothing about the subject matter on the surface is appealing to me. However, in two days, I read the book cover to cover. I could hardly put it down. Told in the honest and believable voice of Captain Sig, it is the story of three generations of Hansens, their bonds with the sea and each other. The affection and admiration the author shows for his brothers, parents and crew is sincere. Tales of life at sea are not tiresome and technical, but exciting and sometimes hilarious. There is enough historical perspective to provide interesting context for the stories, none of it bogged down in heavy rhetoric. Just like the television series, I had no idea what I was missing until I sat down and found out for myself.
Recommended by Connie, July 2010

 
Book Cover for Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture Hemenway, Toby
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture

Nonfiction
Permaculture is a design approach to create landscapes that function like ecosystems, with the diversity, stability and resilience found in nature, whether prairie grassland, native forest, or something in-between. If you are an urban gardener, you'll want to see the second edition of Gaia’s Garden, published in 2009, which includes an additional chapter, “Permaculture Gardening in the City.” I appreciate the focus on practicality in Gaia’s Garden. A wise advisor, Mr. Hemenway offers detailed, well-organized information. His highest wisdom stems from the notion that idealism should not get in the way of making a garden that is ultimately effective for the people who use it. He writes, “Overall, doing an imperfect something is better than doing a perfect nothing.” That’s good advice in and out of the garden.
Recommended by Julie, November 2010

 
Book Cover for Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home Janzen, Rhoda
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

Nonfiction
When she leaves home for college, Janzen withdraws from the conservative Mennonite community she grew up in and embraces the secular world. She marries outside the faith, earns a Ph.D. and teaches English and creative writing at a Midwestern college. At age 43 a double disaster sends her home to live with her mother, who is a church deacon, and her father, a former "Mennonite equivalent of the pope." Instead of spending a planned sabbatical researching, she reengages in Mennonite culture. Weaving sharp details with deadpan humor, Janzen explores her past and present, focusing on her parents' values. Stoicism, honesty, hard work, good cheer, faith, generosity, and tolerance shine. While at home, Janzen sews her own pants, whips up delicious food from scratch (Zweibach! Borscht!), sings a lusty alto, edits an academic book (she's a crack grammarian). And she tells a heck of a story.
Recommended by Julie, April 2010

 
Book Cover for Triumph: Life After the Cult Jessop, Carolyn
Triumph: Life After the Cult

Nonfiction
Another survivor’s tale to emerge from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A follow-up to her first narrative, the aptly titled Escape, this new work continues Carolyn’s story as she works to assist authorities conducting the 2009 investigation on the FLDS compound in Texas. With a uniquely valuable perspective as a former sect member, she provides information on the warped psychology of the community. The first section describes in heart-breaking detail the authorities' struggle in identifing the abuse taking palce at the Yearning for Zion Ranch. Ultimately, only a small percentage of those responsible for certain crimes were charged. However, Carolyn and many other victim advocates still hope something can be done for those left on the inside, including her own daughter. In the second half of the book, we are shown piece by piece how a victim of extreme degradation and brain-washing can overcome the horrors of a cult. Carolyn revisits specific incidents in her past that will make you cringe, but that she managed to survive. The fact that this individual can walk through her life without uncontrollable rage at all times blows my mind.
Recommended by Connie, September 2010

 
Book Cover for Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison Kerman, Piper
Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison

Nonfiction
Piper Kerman, a recent graduate of Smith College, was looking for adventure. She got involved with a woman who was travelling the world smuggling drugs and laundering money. After a few months, Kerman realized that the new life she inhabited was not glamorous but sordid and treacherous. She got out, severing all ties to her new “friends.” Fast forward ten years, Kerman is engaged and enjoying a high-profile job in New York City. That is, until the Feds show up at her house and charge her with drug trafficking. With the help of a top lawyer, she is sentenced to only one year—the minimum mandatory time for her offense. In the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, Connecticut she witnesses first-hand the effects of her crime, surrounded by women whose lives and families have been torn apart by drugs. But Kerman finds something else she hadn’t expected: community, acceptance and the love of her fellow prisoners. She writes about the colorful characters she encounters in prison: a six-foot four transsexual diva who sings gospel songs every night before going to bed, big-mouthed “Eminemlettes” always looking for a fight, a nun serving time for political activism, and an ancient granny locked up for taking phone messages for a drug-dealing relative. This heartfelt memoir could be called a hagiography for the millions of prisoners trapped in a justice system that isn’t always just. Bonus: a recipe for “prison cheesecake” on page 150.
Recommended by Bonnie, July 2010

 
Book Cover for Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp Klein, Stephanie
Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp

Nonfiction
In the late 1980’s, teenager Klein equates everything good in life with thinness. Her parents would love her more. She would be worthy of friendship. She would be smarter, taller, prettier, and funnier. So she agrees to attend a sleep-away summer camp that will focus on nutrition and exercise – a fat camp. Here she encounters other teenagers struggling with their weight, and she experiences a whole new pecking order. There’s inter-cabin drama and forbidden romance with the boys’ side. Somehow, this author has managed to write a memoir about her obesity and health issues without complaining, blaming, or playing any kind of victim card. She’s laugh out loud funny through most of the book. Klein is candid and accessible, qualities most memoirs lack.
Recommended by Connie, March 2010

 
Book Cover for The Mating Mind Miller, Geoffrey
The Mating Mind

Nonfiction
The origins of the human mind’s varied features is a hotly debated topic amongst philosophers, psychologists, and social scientists. Why do people like art, literature, music, and poetry? Why do we crack jokes, or for that matter laugh at them? What are the origins of language? For Geoffrey Miller the answer to these questions, and many others like them, is that the human mind is an evolved product of a process Charles Darwin called sexual selection. You may already be familiar with Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which explains that organisms evolve as traits that aid in survival are passed on to successive generations. Sexual selection works in a similar way, except that traits that aid in attracting mates are passed on to successive generations. In other words, rather than an organism’s natural environment selecting for traits, the organism’s potential mates do. Applied to humans, this means that everyone alive today is partly the product of our ancestors’ preferences in what they found attractive in sexual partners. While this certainly applies to bodily traits, Miller argues that it also applies to the human mind. Thus, for Miller, our artistic tastes, sense of humor, propensity for language, and even our sense of right and wrong survive today simply because our ancestors preferred mates who displayed these traits. Miller’s argument is eye-opening to say the least, and his laid back, often humorous writing style makes this book an enjoyable read. Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in popular science topics or human evolution.
Recommended by Wes, January 2010

 
Book Cover for Cakewalk: A Memoir Moses, Kate
Cakewalk: A Memoir

Nonfiction
There’s nothing like a good book to make you want to read more good books. I don’t usually evaluate the literary quality in memoirs, and if I do, I often don’t find a lot to praise. However, Ms. Moses is clearly a good reader herself, and it is apparent from her first vignette that years of inspired reading and listening inform her style. Her stories narrate the eventual break down of a family supported by utterly mismatched parents. Her mother wants glamour and excitement and a best friend for a daughter. Her rigid father expects high performance, and withers away under the pressures of his own expectations of himself. This conflict is common in memoirs, and many feature miserable families. However, Cakewalk stands out for its fine writing. I must also mention that despite pain and anguish, there is sweetness in the author’s life, as evidenced by the wonderful dessert recipes that conclude nearly every chapter.
Recommended by Connie, October 2010

 
Book Cover for I [heart] Macarons Ogita, Hisako
I [heart] Macarons

Nonfiction
After seeing the movie Julie and Julia, I knew I wanted to try cooking my way through a recipe book, but I didn't want to cook my way through Julia Child. (No way, aspic and duck.) I thought about Moosewood. I thought about vegetarian. And I thought about a Southern Living Annual with all the butter left in. Then I found it. The cookbook I was going to cook my way through: I [heart] Macarons. The instructions are easy to follow and well illlustrated. The flavor and color pairing examples ignite fantasies in your mouth. The only way this cookbook could be better is if the pictures were edible or at least scratch and sniff.
Recommended by Geo, July 2010

 
Book Cover for I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth Peterson, Brenda
I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth

Nonfiction
I usually gravitate toward the shocking or hilarious when I pick up a new memoir. Rarely am I excited by someone I relate to. However, I make a generous exception for Ms. Peterson because her spiritual autobiography is so refreshing and timely. She harkens back to her conservative Southern Baptist childhood, remembering songs and celebrations about shedding the world around us and leaving this ruined planet for a heavenly reward. But young Brenda has a secret. She's in love with the natural world. She sees the face of god in plants and animals and waterfalls. Her idea of divinity isn't separate from science, nor can she be a biologist who removes spirituality from the earth. Eventually she forges a path that her family can’t relate to, but the strength of their bonds endure. For once, I discovered a memoir written by someone without a tragic or complicated or torturous childhood who finds herself, cultivates happiness and success, and still loves her parents.
Recommended by Connie, April 2010

 
Book Cover for Where’s My Wand? Poole, Eric
Where’s My Wand?: One Boy's Magical Triumph over Alienation and Shag Carpeting

Nonfiction
Young Eric Poole sincerely believed in magic. He could secretly conjure ideal outcomes to all of life’s troubles in his basement (think Endora from Bewitched in a chenille bedspread caftan). He could make the new girl in school, who was born with no arms but strong legs, become his best friend and bodyguard. He could end the battle between his obsessive compulsive mother and his visiting grandmother. Even if that meant Grandma would first set fire to her mattress smoking in bed, nearly killing them all, leading to the declaration that she would no longer be welcome in the Pool house. Eric could vanquish enemies and bring justice to the little guys of the world – he simply needed an empty house and the magic blanket. As Eric grows up, though, it seems magic works less and less. Things go wrong. He can’t quite control everything. With sincerity, humor, and charm, this memoir will be immensely satifying to fans of David Sedaris, Laurie Notaro, and Sloane Crosley.
Recommended by Connie, August 2010

 
Book Cover for The Rational Optimist Ridley, Matt
The Rational Optimist

Nonfiction
Being a big fan of Matt Ridley’s The Origins of Virtue, I was excited to get my hands on his latest book, The Rational Optimist. Though not quite as hard-hitting as his previous work, it’s filled with interesting insights that lend themselves to a more optimistic view of the world. Ridley’s central thesis is that humans trading with each other led to the evolution of prosperity that many of us enjoy today, and that continued trade will continue to improve the state of the world. Indeed, humans are the only species that trades with strangers, and in doing so we reduce our workload and expand our gain. Historically, Ridley argues, it’s been the power-hungriness of politicians and priesthoods that have stymied trade and human prosperity. But fear not, Ridley is not an off-the-tracks libertarian: he backs his statements up with historical facts and data. If there’s one thing about the book I dislike, it’s that Ridley sometimes glosses over human atrocities with a simple “but, it’s getting better.” Still, the logical and empirical support for his main argument leads me to conclude that, for the most part, we have a lot to be optimistic about.
Recommended by Wes, July 2010

 
Book Cover for Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr Shearer, Stephen Michael
Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr

Nonfiction
This intriguing biography covers all 85 years of actress Hedy Lamarr’s life. And what a life she had! Born Hedwig Keisler in Austria in 1914, an only child of doting parents, she dropped out of school at a young age to pursue an acting career, and soon landed the lead part in the controversial film Ecstasy. The adult nature of the movie caused a stir and was banned by many countries and religious organizations. However, Hedy’s striking beauty caught the eye of a wealthy arms manufacturer, whom she married at age 18. After a few difficult years with her controlling older husband, she made her escape. In London she met Louis Mayer, head of MGM Studios. With a Hollywood film contract and a more appealing stage name — Hedy Lamarr — she was billed as “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Her stardom rose at a dizzying speed as she acted in popular films including Algiers, Ziegfeld Girl, Come Live With Me, Tortilla Flat, Boomtown, My Favorite Spy, and Samson and Delilah. Hedy’s off-screen life was also a whirlwind of activity. While in her twenties, she teamed up with an inventor and patented a technical way to help with war efforts called frequency hopping. This invention was later used during the Cuban Missile Crisis. She was married six times, yet she said in later interviews that the happiest times of her life were when she was single. She had three children, wrote an explosive autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, and pursued countless lawsuits against ex-husbands, business associates, and companies that used her image without her approval. This book is a well-researched examination of a fascinating woman. Fans of classic films especially will welcome this glimpse into Hedy’s extraordinary life.
Recommended by Karen G., December 2010

 
Book Cover for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Skloot, Rebecca
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Nonfiction
This tale is an interesting mix of science, social history, and ethics. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer. While being treated and without her knowledge, doctors took a sample of her cells and sent them to a scientist attempting to cultivate the first immortal human cells, cells that would continue to live and divide outside of a human body. No other cells had done this before, but hers did. Known as the HeLa cells, they continue to live, and have aided in such medical breakthroughs as the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, and cloning. They have also gone into space and were the first human cells to test the effects of an atom bomb. The entire cell and tissue culture business was based on the reproduction of the HeLa cells. Her family found out thirty years after she died and have never received financial compensation, even though others have profited from the cells' sale and distribution. The juxtaposition of Henrietta’s and her family’s life stories with the scientists and scientific discoveries makes for a varied and entertaining read.
Recommended by Melissa, August 2010

 
Book Cover for High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly Spoto, Donald
High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly

Nonfiction
High Society has always been one of my favorite movies, because it stars one of my most admired actresses, Grace Kelly. In all her films, Kelly’s ethereal beauty shone through, and she seemed like the perfect movie star. This new biography does little to dispel that view. It tells the story of a beautiful, wealthy girl from Philadelphia who somehow didn’t fit in with her athletic and competitive family. Clearly not her parents’ favorite, she spent most of her time reading and dreaming. After moving to New York to attend acting classes, she began modeling, which quickly spun into a high-paying profession. She briefly appeared on Broadway and then landed her first movie role at the age of 22. A dizzying number of movie roles followed, including her widely acclaimed collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock and her Academy Award-winning role in Country Girl. High Society doesn’t skimp on her romantic entanglements during this time, but it manages to do so in a respectful manner. Her years spent in Monaco as princess, wife and mother until her untimely death at age 52 are also extensively covered. Personal letters and notes written by Kelly herself round out this well-researched biography.
Recommended by Karen G., March 2010

 
Book Cover for Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation Stein, Elissa and Susan Kim
Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation

Nonfiction
The authors approach a subject buried so deep in myth and taboo that I nearly hesitated to leave the book at the top of my “to-read” pile. Of course, that was before I actually read it, before I understood that my perspective was impeded by years of misinformation and maladjustment sponsored by the feminine care product industry. In friendly, well-researched narration, Stein and Kim describe the social history of women’s cycles and the impact that fashion, religion, politics, and economics has had on half the world’s population. I don’t consider myself naïve, but I admit I was startled to put all of the marketing and advertising revolving around menstruation into perspective. Read this book. You will learn something. And did I mention that these writers are hilarious? This is a realistic, easy-to-digest, wickedly funny and sometimes alarming work of non-fiction that is worth the time.
Recommended by Connie, February 2010

 
Book Cover for Chasing Spring Stutz, Bruce
Chasing Spring

Nonfiction
Shortly after undergoing heart surgery to repair a damaged valve, Bruce Stutz hopped in a 1984 Chevy Impala lovingly called Moby Dick and began a cross-country tour to follow spring as it emerged throughout the country. Part of his trip was scientific: Stutz visited numerous scientists and conservationists across the country to learn about the effect global warming is having on spring. He troublingly learns that spring is arriving earlier each year, resulting in altered migration patterns for animals, melting glaciers, and destroyed ecosystems. The other part of Stutz’s trip was personal, and he waxes poetically about the importance of spring as a shared human cultural experience steeped in mythology and symbolism. But as spring changes, our culture is not keeping up, and Stutz laments that people are losing out on an opportunity to experience a human tradition that may not be with us much longer. Chasing Spring is an enlightening treat for fans of travelogues and popular science books.
Recommended by Wes, June 2010

 
Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East Summers, Carolyn
Designing Gardens with Flora of the American East

Nonfiction
If you’ve read Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens and are interested in implementing its philosophy, Summers’ book is a helpful resource for the Pittsburgh gardener. Tallamy’s book offers a new gardening paradigm: instead of choosing “insect-resistant” plants, one should choose native plants that native insects can feed on, which in turn will provide food for native birds and other wildlife. It is a way to make your garden sustainable and a haven of biodiversity. Summers shows you how to “go native” by providing alternative indigenous plants to invasive non-natives we all seem to have in our gardens. And she’ll tell you what sorts of insects, especially butterflies, feed on them. I must admit it is tough reading when one feels guilty for growing forsythia, butterfly bush and Japanese barberry, especially when they are thriving. And my lovely hostas and daylilies don’t qualify as natives either. I might not tear these plants out, but I will introduce more native plants and for this, Summers's book is a great help. She provides lists of native alternatives for commonly grown trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses, and since she is from New York state, the plants she recommends should do well here. My only complaint is the paucity of color photographs, but the internet provides photos for identification. Any person interested in sustainable gardening should find Summers’s book thought-provoking and useful, and at the least, it will change the way you look at plants and insects.
Recommended by Cathy, September 2010

 
Book Cover for Michael Symon’s Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen Symon, Michael
Michael Symon’s Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen

Nonfiction
Michael Symon, Iron Chef and James Beard Award Winner, presents his first cookbook. With his background, we might expect fancy food out of reach of the average cook. But no. He explains in detail fundamental cooking techniques. Most recipes include a photo to either illustrate the finished dish or highlight one of the steps. Helpful “Symon Says” tips appear throughout the book. I recommend Live to Cook for those ready to try a twist on a standard dish or to branch out into something slightly unusual, but still within reach.
Recommended by Melissa, May 2010

 
Book Cover for Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston Wilson, Charis
Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston

Nonfiction
Charis Wilson and Edward Weston were a couple from 1934 to 1945. They lived together most of that time, and worked together the entire time. Wilson details their photography projects (he photographer, she model and writer), as well as the dynamics of their relationship. It's interesting how gender plays out in this relatively progressive relationship during a time when gender roles were often traditionally-defined. For example, the couple shared housework completely, but equal artistic ownership of collaborations was not always seamlessly achieved.
Recommended by Jude , March 2010

 
Book Cover for Home Cooking With Trisha Yearwood: Stories & Recipes to Share with Family & Friends Yearwood, Trisha
Home Cooking With Trisha Yearwood: Stories & Recipes to Share with Family & Friends

Nonfiction
In a follow-up to her 2008 bestseller, Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen, Yearwood delivers another crowd-pleasing collection of Southern recipes, including a short history and beautiful photo of each dish. I prepared the slow cooker macaroni and cheese and received rave reviews. Broccoli casserole was an interesting twist on a classic vegetable dish, and the three-ingredient biscuits were quick and tasty. Some of the desserts seem a little intimidating to the novice baker, but after viewing the stunning photographs, they look like a worthwhile use of time. Keep in mind, though, that these recipes concentrate on traditional Southern fare, so you know what that means: meat, eggs, cheese, and cream. Turn to Yearwood’s book for hearty, down-home cooking — perhaps best enjoyed in moderation but always delicious!
Recommended by Karen G., June 2010

 
Book Cover for 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement Ziegelman, Jane
97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement

Nonfiction
Ziegelman portrays five families who lived in the tenement at 97 Orchard Street in Manhattan (now the Tenement Museum) to tell the history of immigrant foodways between 1863 (when the tenement was built) and 1935 (when it was no longer used for residences). An easy and interesting read, the author gives a broad and entertaining history of food and social conditions in New York City during each period. Ziegelman begins with the Glockners in the 1860s, a German family who built the tenement. Then comes the Moore family from Ireland, the German Jewish Gompertz family from Prussia in the 1870s, the Russian Jewish Rogarshevsky family in the early 1900s, and finally the Italian Baldizzi family in the 1920-30s. Ziegelman describes the living conditions of each immigrant group and the food they would have commonly eaten. 97 Orchard gave me the final impetus I needed to visit the Tenement Museum (http://www.tenement.org/) on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, a followup I highly recommend, especially during this time of immigration controversy.
Recommended by Cathy, October 2010

 

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Mysteries

Book Cover for The Cold Light of Mourning Duncan, Elizabeth J.
The Cold Light of Mourning

Mystery
Located in the North of Wales, this tale of a runaway bride is both picturesque and suspenseful. The main character, the manicurist who polished the bride's nails on the morning of her wedding, gives the author the opportunity to invent very cute nail polish names: Altar Ego, Big Apple Red, Sonora Sunset. How about Pinkslip Pansy, Palsied Peach, Livid Lavender? A location junkie after reading M. C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series, I like mysteries set in or around Scotland, with weather uninviting and water treacherous. Throw in a dead body and there is no resisting. The Cold Light of Mourning is first in this Cornwall series, followed by A Brush With Death.
Recommended by Geo, October 2010

 
Book Cover for U is for Undertow Grafton, Sue
U is for Undertow

Mystery
Sue Grafton fans had to wait more than two years for a new Kinsey Millhone story, but it was worth the wait. This is absolutely one of the best. U is for Undertow finds the determined Millhone investigating the disappearance of a small child that happened more than twenty years ago. Many things go wrong in her investigations, including a client who has a history of false memory syndrome — he strongly believes memories that are factually incorrect. Because the series is set in the 1980s, Kinsey has to use library research, phone calls, and old fashioned legwork to track down the clues. She doggedly accomplishes this with her usual simple but effective methods. Veteran readers of the series and newcomers alike can jump right in and enjoy this thrilling mystery.
Recommended by Karen G., April 2010

 
Book Cover for When Winter Returns Haines, Kathryn Miller
When Winter Returns

Mystery
World War II has just ended, and protagonist Rosie Winters and her best friend Jayne are back in New York City after finishing their USO tour. Jayne’s fiancé, Billy, was recently killed in action, and the friends decide to visit the bereaved parents to offer their condolences. After a brief conversation, they are horrified to discover a startling secret: The fiancé had taken the identity of a fallen soldier. This naturally inspires Rosie and Jayne to start sleuthing to find out the truth. Amidst their detective work, the young women must remain afloat financially, and continue auditioning for acting jobs. Haines, who lives in Pittsburgh, recreates life in post-WWII America with great aplomb. Her characters’ speech, dress, and behaviors bring the reader on a trip back to the 1940s — and an engaging one at that.
Recommended by Karen G., October 2010

 
Book Cover for The Murder Room James, P. D.
The Murder Room

Mystery
What do long winter days and long airline flights have in common? Both offer wonderful opportunities to pass the time with a good book, and especially a good mystery. James’ Commander Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard is assigned to a grisly murder that may or may not have a connection to MI5, the UK’s Homeland Security division. There is definitely a copycat killer at work with his (or her) inspiration coming from a quirky museum in the English countryside. The Dupayne Museum is a small family affair, and when a charred body is discovered on the museum grounds, the family provides plenty of suspects. Employees, volunteers, unhappy children, and rejected lovers keep the Commander and his interview team busy. Stir in a poignant old-fashioned romance, add a surprising touch of 21st century love and lust, and most certainly a few gruesome crime scenes, and you’ll wish that your flight were delayed just a bit longer.
Recommended by Jane, April 2010

 

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Science Fiction

Book Cover for The Bradbury Report Polansky, Steven
The Bradbury Report

Science Fiction
In the year 2071, the U.S. is the only country where cloning is legal, paid for by the government, and part of the health insurance system. Nearly every citizen has one, but clones ("copies") are not thought of as human, instead they are used for spare parts when the "original" is sick or injured. Clones are kept in a secret compound. Anna, a member of an underground abolitionist group, helps hide the first escaped clone, hoping he will become an anti-cloning spokesperson. Strong, thought-provoking writing.
Recommended by Julie, August 2010

 
Book Cover for Galileo's Dream Robinson, Kim Stanley
Galileo's Dream

Science Fiction
In 1609, an enigmatic stranger inspires Galileo to create a magnifying glass like no other. The telescope brings Galileo great notoriety & fame but little fortune. It also brings powerful enemies. The stranger soon whisks the great man far into the future, physically placing him on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, where a battle is going on between various scientific factions, each one hoping to gain Galileo's wisdom, blessing and favor. Back on Earth Galileo is wanted as well, by the Inquisition! Seems his heliocentric views have upset the Pope so much that he's threatened with imprisonment and/or death. In essence, Galileo is fighting two battles, one in outer space and one in Italy. Which one is weirder is left up to the reader. Galileo's Dream serves not only as a wonderfully imaginative tale, but as a superb biography of Galileo. It is one of KSR's finest creations, which is really saying something.
Recommended by John, May 2010

 
Book Cover for Lamentation Scholes, Ken
Lamentation

Science Fiction
This first entry in a dynamic new fantasy/science fiction series by Scholes begins with the mysterious destruction of the city of Windwir, which sets off an immediate armed conflict amongst the fallen city's neighbors. If large explosions and epic battles aren't enough for you, this book also features robots, magic spells, invisible gypsies, and dueling popes.
Recommended by Mark, September 2010

 

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Graphic Novels

Book Cover for Far Arden Cannon, Kevin
Far Arden

Graphic Novel
This was my first graphic novel, and I chose a good one. The artwork is simple but effective. The writing is believable and laugh out loud funny. I especially liked the placement of words for sound effects and other wordless happenings, which reminded me of the old Batman television show. This adventure comic features characters with hidden pasts, conflict, intrigue, a touch of romance, a mythical island, and circus sideshow performers. In short, Far Arden has a bit of everything for everyone.
Recommended by Melissa, February 2010

 
Book Cover for Artichoke Tales Kelso, Megan
Artichoke Tales

Graphic Novel
Kelso’s first graphic novel is a fairy tale story wrapped in a coming-of-age tale, but though it lives in another world its lessons are for our own. Family history, biases, and how and why we love the way we do are explored in a unique and real way.
Recommended by Tony , October 2010

 
Book Cover for Stitches: A Memoir Small, David
Stitches: A Memoir

Graphic Non-fiction
Award-winning children’s author and artist Small had a fascinating, horrifying, and chilling childhood. He grew up in 1950s middle America with stony cold parents. Their lack of affection and communication goes beyond discomfort, straight to abusive neglect and malevolence. When adolescent David develops a lump on his neck, his parents deny the seriousness of his condition and avoided treatment until an advanced tumor claims half of his vocal chords and his voice. No one tells him it's cancer. And no one mentions that his own father, a physician, is probably responsible for the cancer, a result of radiation treatments he gave David as a child. His mother is a humorless woman loaded with anger, from a family who for generations suppressed frustrations and experienced mental illness. She has no sympathy for her son, only distaste for his sickness and disgust over the expense of treating him. The young man’s life is bleak and cold. His story is told in gray panels with a minimum of text, reflecting the author’s loss of speech and disconnect from the outside world and other people. The images are striking, anguished, and really impressive. I've never seen an artist capture such desperation and desolation in someone’s eyes.
Recommended by Connie, June 2010

 

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Short Stories

Book Cover for Birds of America Moore, Lorrie
Birds of America

Short Stories
“There was nothing as complex in the world—no flower or stone—as a single hello from a human being,” Laurie Moore writes in one of her short stories, and throughout Birds of America, she proves it again and again. Her characters date people twenty years their junior. They embarrass themselves, offend people and cheat on their partners. They can’t get along with their relatives long enough to finish a game of charades, and remain too introspective to connect with others enough to overcome their loneliness. They get cancer and buy dilapidated houses and shoot intrusive rodents. In short, they are regular, decidedly unheroic people whose quirkiness warrants as much derision as empathetic self-recognition. While Moore addresses such difficult subject matter as illness, death, infidelity and social isolation, her stories ring with wry humor. Her prose brilliantly mixes phrases from common speech with ingenious wordplay and startlingly poetic descriptions—she even throws in a few Tom Swifties. Birds of America is an appropriate, if cryptic title: Moore details the interior life of her characters with the skill and beauty Audubon rendered ornithology into colorful, lush portraits.
Recommended by Renée, December 2010

 
Book Cover for In Other Rooms, Other Wonders Mueenuddin, Daniyal
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

Short Stories
The Western world’s perception of Pakistan often comes from news reports about violence, Kashmir disputes, or natural disasters. That’s why it’s so refreshing to read this colorful volume of short stories about ordinary life and love in both rural and urban Pakistan. Mueenuddin takes us inside the head of jealous siblings, corrupt bureaucrats, a maid leaving her drug-addicted husband, and a father defending himself against a motorcycle robber. Each piece focuses on a new character, but one wealthy landowner leaves his mark in several stories.
Recommended by Rita, December 2010

 

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Horror

Book Cover for Seven Deadly Pleasures Aronovitz, Michael
Seven Deadly Pleasures

Horror
I spent a good part of the day yesterday experiencing a feeling of dread. The reason? I'd read a novella called “Toll Booth,” the final tale in a collection of short horror stories, Seven Deadly Pleasures by Michael Aronovitz. A Pennsylvania native, Aronovitz practices his craft in the Philadelphia area when he's not teaching English literature at a charter high school. That said, it’s clear that Aronovitz follows the mantra “write what you know.” He tells of horrors in contemporary life, in everyday locales like schools, alongside highways, or inside your own home, and Pennsylvania often fits into the equation. While not all equally scary, the stories all display a literary quality beyond average horror writing, with characters and locations so vivid you are instantly pulled in. But be warned, these are not light-hearted gorefests or ghost stories. While some gore and supernatural elements are part of Aronovitz’s repertoire of scares, they are secondary to the emotional traumas he inflicts on his characters, and you will feel every bit of emotional agony that they do. Any fan of classic Stephen King and Clive Barker or old school horror television shows like "Night Gallery" and "Tales from the Darkside" will find a lot to like in this book.
Recommended by Wes, April 2010

 
Book Cover for No Doors, No Windows Schreiber, Joe
No Doors, No Windows

Horror
An above average haunted house story about a Seattle writer who returns home to New Hampshire for his father’s funeral, only to discover lingering family mysteries begging to be solved. The prime mystery is that of Round House, an odd house in the middle of the woods designed without interior edges: all the corners of the rooms have been sanded into smooth curves. When our protagonist discovers that his father was writing a story about the house, he takes an interest, too, and picks up the story where his father left off. Soon the storytelling reveals terrible secrets about murdered girls, vengeful warlocks, and family curses that ultimately lead to a terrifying climax within Round House’s creepy walls. Fans of Mark Danielewski’s cult classic House of Leaves will appreciate its obvious influence on Schreiber’s page-turner plot.
Recommended by Wes, September 2010

 
Book Cover for The Little Stranger Waters, Sarah
The Little Stranger

Horror
The Little Stranger came highly recommended. Sarah Waters previously penned three historical fiction novels, two of which were shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker prize. The Little Stranger landed on the Booker 2009 shortlist, too. Just a few pages into The Little Stranger I knew I’d found a gem. Set in 1947 rural England, war rationing is still in place. The narrator, an articulate, likable middle-aged physician, answers a call to Hundreds Hall, a declining Georgian mansion he remembers visiting as a young child, when his mother worked there as a maid. Hundreds Hall and the family who live there gradually absorb, haunt, and finally possess his thoughts, time, and energy. It’s a strangely beautiful novel, creepy, psychologically complex, atmospheric, one I’ll continue to ponder.
Recommended by Julie, June 2010